Tuesday, April 04, 2006
The First Year
March 24, 2005
According to reliable sources, this is Oreo's birthday. Excitement mounts among two of the three Martin household members as "our" puppy's arrival is only two months away. Of course, at this point, we don't know that Oreo is ours. He is simply one of a litter of eight waiting to be chosen by Cheryl and Sarah.
April 20, 2005
Cheryl and Sarah visit the breeder and make their decision. Based on the breeder's assurance that he is not the dominant one in the litter, they choose a little black and white puppy and Sarah names him Oreo. D-Day is only four weeks away.
I like dogs. I really do. I just don’t want to live with one.
After years of endless lobbying by my wife and daughter, I finally relented and agreed to get a dog. Since my wife Cheryl is allergic to canines, our choice of breeds was limited. But after much research, Cheryl and Sarah settled on a Portuguese Water Dog, a non-shedding breed that I assumed, from its name, would be happier in Halifax or Rio de Janeiro than in landlocked Ottawa.
Despite my reservations (after all, the PWD is described as a medium to large-sized dog), Cheryl put down a deposit with a breeder for one of the puppies from a recent litter. Little did I know, this was just the beginning of an ongoing series of dog-related financial outlays.
The puppy himself cost Cheryl $1700, an amount that served to immediately dilate my pupils to their maximum aperture. And, of course, there were expenditures on high-end crates, bowls, toys, treats and food.
But that was only the beginning. As with any new arrival, it’s necessary to baby-proof the house. That meant baby gates for each of the three entrances to the kitchen.
It also meant a new $800 Afghan rug to cover the five steps to the upper level. Although I’d been climbing them for years with my arthritic hips, apparently dogs shouldn’t be walking up hardwood steps. Something about bone development and possible hip dysplasia.
Not only did the house have to be properly prepared for our new pet. The backyard had to be brought up to standard, too. That meant $300 for a gate and the purchase of assorted pieces of wood to block any escape routes under and around the fence.
I didn’t recall such elaborate preparations for Sarah’s arrival nine years earlier. As I remember it, poor Sarah had to make do with a secondhand crib, dresser and change table and a small throw rug from Walmart. Then again, we hadn’t paid $1700 for her.
May 20, 2005
Finally, D-day arrived. Cheryl and Sarah headed out one sunny Saturday morning and returned that afternoon with a cute, black and white ball of fur that Sarah had christened Oreo.
Since I was the only reluctant prospective dog owner in the family, I was repeatedly asked if I liked Oreo which, of course, I did. As I said, I like dogs. And who could resist an adorable, black and white puppy even if he did bite, chew and pee at will?
Oreo was likeable enough but what I didn’t like were the changes that Oreo brought with him. For years, I could make a quick trip from our living room to the rec room in the basement. Not anymore.
Now that same trip involves stepping over one baby gate, navigating a makeshift extra step and undoing and re-hitching a second gate. And if I forget to bring something, I have to repeat the entire process two more times.
At one point, I sensed that Cheryl was sympathizing with my new plight. Especially when she asked if I had any problems with the new makeshift step. When I said it wasn’t too bad and thanks for thinking of me, she said that she wasn’t asking for my sake but wanted to know if it would be OK for Oreo.
Cheryl had earlier informed me that from Oreo’s perspective, she was dominant and thus qualified as the so-called alpha bitch. After her somewhat insensitive comment about the step, I was tempted to concur in that observation but ultimately thought better of it.
Which was just as well since, contrary to expectations, my predicted role as the alpha male was not coming to fruition. Oreo seemed to pay no more deference or respect to me than he did to the kitchen floor which was quickly becoming his preferred voiding area.
Instead, I was rapidly descending our household hierarchy and apparently destined for the number four position. At that point, I was just thankful that we didn’t have a gerbil or a hamster to compete with for the penultimate rung on the family ladder.
Despite the new inconveniences, the lifestyle changes and my many misgivings, things progressed fairly well. Oreo didn’t have any long, whiny nights and he adjusted fairly quickly to his new home. Who knows? Perhaps he is a discriminating puppy and appreciated that we had provided him with the best in dog bowls and high-end, Afghan stair carpeting.
But the expenses continue. $135 for the first vet visit, $250 for five sessions with a dog trainer who I suspect is training us, not the dog. And an unspecified future outlay for enrollment in doggie obedience school.
I’d like to say that it’s all been worth it, that Oreo is one priceless, lovable puppy. But I’m not quite at that stage yet. Hopefully some day I’ll be as attached to him as he appears to be to my pant leg and slippers.
I'm still not used to the idea of having a dog around the house 24/7. Like your own shadow, you can never get away. And unlike your own shadow, a dog manages to leave things lying around that you can step on and trip over.
But despite my ambivalence about Oreo's presence, this month I really did feel some empathy for the poor mutt. This was the month that Oreo got, as the vet euphemistically put it, "neutered."
Neutered somehow doesn't quite capture what happened to the poor guy. What happened, of course, was that he had his two testicles lopped off. Well, to be more accurate, he had one lopped off and the second, undescended one required an extra incision or two to get at. I don't know who was more upset, Oreo at losing his not yet realized manhood or me after discovering that the extra incisions added about $200 to the vet bill.
As part of the ironclad contract that I entered into as part of getting a dog, I made it clear that I was not obligated to do anything. That meant no feeding, no brushing, no walking and no poop patrol.
But, like most ironclad contracts, this one seemed to have a lot of flexibility built in. So, over time, I started taking on some minor duties. Since I was the early riser in the family, I would let Oreo out to pee and then feed him. Then I'd let him out again and track down the inevitable pile of poop somewhere in the back yard.
On occasion, I even agreed to walk the dog. If Cheryl and Sarah were away, I would take a short constitutional with Oreo complete with the mandatory plastic bag to collect any of his leavings. I continued to ask myself the philosophical question: "How far has man really advanced when he now has to stoop and collect canine feces with a plastic bag?"
One cool November evening, I was obliged (or more accurately, reluctantly agreed) to walk Oreo since Cheryl and Sarah were out shopping. In a rush to get this chore over and done with, I quickly grabbed the leash and a plastic bag but forgot to take my keys.
Once we returned from our walk, I discovered my oversight. Never mind, I thought, I'll just retrieve the spare house key from its secure, ten-year hiding place. Except when I checked in the secure, ten-year hiding place, the key was gone. The surrounding signs suggested that someone had recently moved it.
As the temperature dropped and Oreo grew restless, I contemplated my dilemma. Cheryl and Sarah wouldn't be home for at least two hours and I had no desire to stand outside in the freezing weather any longer than I had to. So I put Oreo in the backyard and prevailed on one of my neighbors to use their phone to call my in-laws to rescue me.
And rescue me they did. My brother-in-law kindly drove over with a spare key and let me in the house where I spent the next two hours fuming about my lockout. And when Cheryl got home, she confirmed that she had moved the spare key but had forgotten to mention it to me. She and Sarah and (I suspect) Oreo had a good laugh over my mishap as I stomped off to bed muttering about my dog-besotted life.
Over and above the usual stresses and strains of the yuletide season, this year we have to endure doggy's first Christmas. Much like having a new infant in the house, everyone wants to live the holiday season through the eyes of the newcomer.
All of this added celebration is not much of a strain on me. After all, I'm not picking out Christmas tree decorations for Oreo or agonizing over what chew toy to put under the tree for him.
But one thing did disturb me. It's not that Oreo and I had become that close. But this was kind of a guy thing. Oreo was being made to wear a red Santa hat when he went out for his daily walks. Maybe he and I didn't always get along but this was not fair and someone had to defend the poor guy's honor.
Cheryl and Sarah, of course, thought it was "so cute" that the poor bastard had to wear a Santa hat. They never stopped to imagine how it must have been for Oreo to meet other dogs in the neighborhood and look like a fool.
While Cheryl and Sarah continued to dress up the dog, I continued to stand up for his right to walk down the street with at least some modicum of dignity. Finally, after pleading his case for a week, they relented and packed the Santa hat away. Sadly, unless I can find and destroy it, I suspect it is destined to become an annual ritual.
I love roast beef. Next to slow-barbecued ribs, I think it's my favorite meal in the world. Unfortunately, it didn't occur to me that dogs like roast beef almost as much, if not more than, I do.
As I often do, one Sunday night I cooked up a delicious sirloin roast for dinner complete with vegetables, potatoes and gravy. And, as I always do, I put out my large cutting board on the kitchen counter to cut the roast.
All was going well. The vegies were done, the potatoes were cooked and the gravy was almost perfect. I carved slices off the roast and made three plates for us to enjoy dinner in front of the TV.
As I carried the plates downstairs to the rec room, I heard a slight thump from the kitchen. Almost immediately, I knew what had happened.
I dashed up the stairs to find Oreo with the remains of the roast in his canine clutches. I yelled the univeral dog command "Drop it!" as loud as I could and lunged for my remaining roast.
Luckily, I caught him just in time and managed to wrestle the beef from his mouth before he devoured it. And since he had only managed to get one small bite from the roast, I sliced off the chewed end, ran the remainder under the faucet and packed it away in the fridge. All of which proved to me that, in fact, I did love roast beef more than Oreo.
Just when I thought that the doggie expenses had slowed, Oreo created a new way to put a dent in our bank account.
Somehow he managed to get a puncture wound in his side. It turned out that it wasn't a dog bite. But whatever it was, it required an emergency trip to the vet for some stitches and a $300 bill.
As with his "neutering" operation, this medical procedure resulted in a return visit of "Oreo the Conehead." Most dog owners will be familiar with this device - a plastic cone that fits over the dog's neck to prevent him from licking and/or eating his stitches to hopefully avoid another trip to the vet.
All I can say is that I was glad for the advances in conehead technology that had apparently taken place between the time of Oreo's de-nutting operation and his current medical procedure. Whereas the first cone required strings to be tied in an awkward fashion, the new, improved cone had Velcro straps for easy installation.
Even with the Velcro straps, the cone was no treat. It was clearly no fun for Oreo but it was even less fun for us. Taking off the cone was not a difficult task but trying to put it on a reluctant dog was somewhat like trying to thread a needle underwater.
Oreo was supposed to wear the cone for three weeks but we gave up after two. I figured if it required an extra vet bill, at this point, it was almost worth it.